9-10th and Locust, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA
Whatever mode of transportation you use to get here, a good starting point is near the intersection of 10th & Locust Streets. Once you arrive, walk east down Locust Street until you reach 9th Street. Keep going. In two blocks you'll arrive at Washington Square - the first true attraction on our tour. As you walk, I'll talk. Though it may not seem like it today, at the time of the American Revolution, Philadelphia was the most important city in America. With 38,000 inhabitants, it was also the most populous. New York was a distant second; Washington, DC didn’t exist until 1800. Boston was certainly an important commercial city, but not the seat of culture and government like Philadelphia. What happened in this city from the early 1700s through the early 1800s didn’t just change American history, it changed the world we live in today. And it all happened on the very same streets that you’re going to walk. So without further ado, let’s talk about the places you’ll see and the people we’ll “meet” on our way. Our tour begins at Washington Square & the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and continues to the Declaration House, where Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. We’ll then move on to America’s birthplace, Independence Hall, where the Declaration and the Constitution were both signed. After that, we’ll see Congress Hall, followed by Independence Square. At the American Philosophical Society, we’ll learn about Lewis and Clark and their expedition of the American West. Next we’ll visit Carpenters’ Hall, site of the First Continental Congress. We'll wrap things up with Benjamin Franklin’s home, the President’s House, and finally, the Liberty Bell! I don't know about you, but I'm already excited! Once you arrive at Washington Square, find your way to the middle of the square and locate the statue of George Washington.
217-231 W Washington Square, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
You're almost there! Head to the fountain in the middle of the park and then locate the statue of George Washington, the father of our country. His approach will be lined with flags. When you stand in front of him, note the eternal flame and his placement underneath the words, "Freedom is a light for which many have died in darkness."
701 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
Perhaps you've heard of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery? You are now standing atop the Philadelphia equivalent. Washington Square was once a burial ground for unidentified Revolutionary War dead. Today the spot is marked by a memorial - The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution where General George Washington, Commander of the Continental Army, keeps watch over thousands of unknown men who died from illness or injuries sustained in battle during America's war for independence. The Eternal Flame is meant to show that their sacrifice will never be forgotten. As a matter of fact, places like this - burial sites for “unknown soldiers” - are becoming a thing of the past. This is thanks not only to high-tech discoveries like DNA testing, but by a very low-tech device: dog tags. These metal identification tags have been standard issue for American service members since World War I. With them, the number of unidentified servicemen killed in battle has plummeted. Sadly, this was not the case in Washington’s day. Many fallen soldiers had no way of being identified. Or worse yet, they died of diseases like smallpox or yellow fever and needed to be buried immediately to prevent further infection. Numbering about 2,000 in total, both British & American soldiers are buried here, most of whom died during the British occupation of the city from 1777-1778. It is also the final resting place for Philadelphia’s civilian population. Pennsylvania’s founder, William Penn, originally designated this space as a burial ground. It was initially used as a Potter’s Field - or a public graveyard for the poor. Enslaved people, strangers to the city, Indegenous Americans, and those unaffiliated with a church were buried here. In the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 alone, over 1300 people were interred. The space was closed to new burials in 1794 and transformed into a public park. Let’s move on to our next stop. Turn around and walk toward the fountain in the middle of Washington Square. You’ll notice the diagonal pathways leading away from the fountain toward the four corners of the park. Take the path that leads back over your left shoulder, toward the northwest corner of the square. Bear to your right and exit the square at the intersection of Walnut & 7th Street. I’ll meet you there!
701 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
As you exit Washington Square at the intersection of Walnut & 7th, across the street and to your right front, you’ll notice a large building with a stone base & red brick top that takes up the entire block. This is the Curtis Center. Built in 1910, this architectural beauty once housed the Curtis Publishing Company. You see, Philadelphia has long been considered an epicenter of the country’s publishing industry and the Curtis Publishing Company produced some of the best known magazines in American history - most notably Ladies Home Journal & the Saturday Evening Post (still beloved by many because of illustrator Norman Rockwell’s famed cover art). Although Curtis Publishing no longer exists, the building itself still stands as a monument to a bygone era. Continue up 7th street. Using the crosswalk, head north on seventh via the right hand sidewalk. To keep you properly oriented, make sure to leave Washington Square behind you while keeping the Curtis Center on your right. A few blocks ahead of you is our next stop - the Declaration House. I’ll meet you along the way!
636 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
Keep heading north on 7th Street via the right handside walk and as we near the Declaration House, I’ll take you back in time. It is 1775 and tensions between the American Colonies & Great Britain have erupted into violence. Colonial resistance to British taxation has prompted British authorities to clampdown. The result is a bloody clash between American militiamen & the King’s soldiers outside Boston, Massachusetts at Lexington and Concord. As the crisis intensifies, the colonies look to unite their efforts by sending delegates to meet here in Philadelphia. They convene nearby at the Pennsylvania State House, calling themselves the Second Continental Congress. At this point, they are divided over whether or not the American colonies should break from Great Britain and form their own country. By the spring of 1776, however, mounting British aggression forces the issue. A resolution on total independence is proposed. The delegates in favor of separation form a committee whose purpose is to craft a written declaration so that the nature of the American cause can be placed before the world. Wanna know what happens next? I’ll tell you! As you near the intersection of Market & 7th Streets, you’ll see a narrow brick house across the street to your left. I’ll pick up the story there.
Philadelphia (Market & 6th St), Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
The red brick house on the opposite side of 7th street is an important place. It’s where America’s birth certificate was written. You know the words! “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Assisted by fellow committee members John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, it was here at this boarding house that 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson wrote his draft of the Declaration of Independence. In his small, second floor room Jefferson poured his cosmopolitan ideals and fundamental belief in the rights and dignity of man into America’s founding document. Here Jefferson authored the idea of America, an idea which not only Americans - but all freedom loving peoples - have cherished ever since. The Declaration stated not only that America was now free from Britain, but listed all the reasons why it was justified to do so. Among his reasons listed, he accused King George of taxing the colonies without their consent, stationing British troops among the people, and cutting off international trade. But one perplexing line of Jefferson’s original draft was eventually edited out by congress. In an attempt to lay the blame for America’s original sin elsewhere, he blamed George III for imposing the institution of slavery on the United States. Given that Jefferson was a slave owner, this was an incredibly bold and hypocritical claim. In fact, he had an enslaved teenager named Bob Hemings attending to him as he lived in this boarding house. Such contradictions must be a part of any discussion of America’s birth story because they were found all-too-commonly among many of the founding generation; a group of visionaries who were ahead of their time in so many ways while still (regrettably) of their time in others. In this, Jefferson was unexceptional. He resonates with us today, however, because of what made him exceptional - his ennobling ability to articulate American ideals. At our next stop, we’ll see where those ideals (and the United States of America itself) were first put to debate, Independence Hall. To get there, walk to the intersection of 7th & Market. Make a right on Market and walk two blocks until you find yourself in the middle of a large expanse of lawn. I’ll rejoin you along the way.
624 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
As you walk down Market Street, the U.S. Courthouse should be on your left, and on the block immediately beyond, you’ll encounter an open expanse of lawn. When you reach this green area, you’ll notice a building marked, “Independence Visitor’s Center” to your left on the opposite side of the street. If you wish to venture inside to use the bathrooms and/or explore before continuing on our tour, feel free. This walk will take you from where America’s birth certificate was written, to the place where the United States of America was born - Independence Hall. Without the events that took place in this upcoming building, you wouldn’t even be on our tour. Heck, you might still be standing on British soil! Independence Hall is where the Second Continental Congress voted to declare total independence from Great Britain and signed the Declaration of Independence. It can seem, looking back, like America was destined to win the Revolutionary War - but nothing was further from the truth. America was a poor underdog fighting against the greatest military power in the world. If they lost, the men who signed Jefferson’s Declaration (and many other patriots who supported it) would have been hung by the British as traitors. The signers knew this only too well. After affixing his notably large signature to the document, John Hancock of Massachusetts, president of the congress, called the delegates to remain unified by saying, “There must be no pulling different ways. We must all hang together.” Benjamin Franklin, king of the one-liners, famously replied, “Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” I’ll meet you as you reach the center of the block and face squarely toward Independence Hall. It will appear to your right - a large brick building topped with a white bell tower.
6th St &, Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
The open space in which you are now standing is known as Philadelphia’s Independence Mall. Position yourself so that Independence Hall (the iconic brick building with the white bell tower) is to your front. To your right, you should see the Independence Visitor’s Center & Liberty Bell Center opposite one another on either side of the road. Behind you is the National Constitution Center. We’ll talk more about these other locations later. Ahhhh, Independence Hall … the place you’ve come to see! Although completed in 1753 as the Pennsylvania State House, the building’s use was expanded during wartime to serve as the first capitol building of the United States once the Second Continental Congress declared independence in 1776. Although the British would chase the fledgling American government out of Philadelphia in 1777, they eventually came back and (to make a long story short), the war was won. Huzzah! The story didn’t end there, however. After independence was achieved, the former colonies struggled to get on their feet as the United States of America. There was a lot of war debt to be repaid and people from the various states still identified themselves as “Virginians” or “Pennsylvanians” rather than Americans. The Articles of Confederation (our first try at a constitution) did little to solve these problems. In trying to insure that the states retained their power, the national government was rendered increasingly powerless and ineffective. So again, delegates gathered from around the new nation right here in 1787 with the initial goal of simply editing the Articles of Confederation. They met in the same assembly room where Independence had been adopted & declared. The group was led by George Washington along with other familiar faces like Benjamin Franklin & Roger Sherman. BUT there were also new names like James Madison, Alexander Hamilton & others. Once the Constitutional Convention began, the delegates decided to scrap the Articles altogether and start from scratch. For four months, the men inside this building argued about what kind of government could hold the nation together while effectively balancing state & federal power. Imagine this: It’s July of 1787, so there’s no air conditioning; no fans. You’re wearing thick wool clothing. All the windows are shut so no one can overhear the top-secret discussions you’re having. You’re arguing from morning-til-night, trying to fight off other delegates and their nutcase ideas. After four months straight, don’t you think you’d be a little battle-scarred? … and smelly? Well, the delegates certainly were. But, after all the arguing, complaints, secret agreements, and compromises, on September 17, 1787, thirty-nine men signed the new US Constitution. The very same Constitution that still governs this nation today. And do you want to know the best part? None of the signers liked it. Each and every one of them was disappointed with the final product. They all had grand plans for their perfect society and none of them got it. Ben Franklin put it best when he said, “I consent to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best.” But that was (perhaps) the point. Compromise. The new nation was not going to be a political utopia like many founders dreamed. It was going to be a practical nation that would work its best to, “...form a more perfect union, establish justice, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty…” for its people. 250 years later, our goal has stayed the same. Let’s continue our tour. As you face Independence Hall turn left and continue walking down Market Street. In two blocks, we’ll arrive at our next stop … the home of Benjamin Franklin!
314-22 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
Coming up on your right hand side in the middle of the block, you’ll see a red brick tunnel and a cobblestone walkway - the entrance to Franklin Court. Turn right and keep walking until you reach the inner courtyard. You didn’t think I was going to lead you around Philadelphia without talking about Ben Franklin, did you?! There’s no better place to do it than the site of Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia home - Franklin Court. Though the home was torn down, you’ll notice a ghost reconstruction which stands atop the original footprint. The buildings of Franklin Court (like most we’ve seen today) are owned and operated by the National Park Service. If you’re visiting during the day, you can check to see if the courtyard attractions are open. There is a print shop, an underground museum, and an archeological site that shows what life was like in the late 1700s. Feel free to walk around the courtyard or take a seat wherever you like. Now, the City of Brotherly love has no more famous son than printer, inventor, diplomat, patriot, and all-around enigma Benjamin Franklin. But you may be surprised to know that, though Ben Franklin is probably the most famous Philadelphian of all time, he was not born here. Born in Boston, he was one of 17 children and only attended school until the age of 10. He fled his printer’s apprenticeship in Boston without permission at the age of 17. That meant that when Ben Franklin arrived in Philadelphia, he was a fugitive. His fortunes would quickly change. Franklin would eventually serve as a minister to England on behalf of the colony of Pennsylvania and help repeal the hated Stamp Act. Not only did he help America declare independence from England, he would also secure the alliance with France that made American independence possible. What’s more, he was a world-famous inventor who created bifocal glasses, swim fins (like you wear in the pool), the Franklin stove, and a “comfortable” catheter (if you don’t know what that is, I suggest you Google it; I’d like to keep this tour rated PG). Franklin was also wildly enthusiastic about fire prevention. In fact, he began the first fire company in the nation on nearby Market Street and he oversaw the installation of fire prevention devices in many Philadelphia homes. Fire was a very common problem in early America. All cooking and heating came from fireplaces (and as you look around Franklin Court, you’ll see how homes in colonial cities were often attached; if one caught fire, the others would too). So, ingeniously, Franklin pioneered fire prevention methods like having separate flues for each fireplace installed in the home, thus reducing chances of a chimney fire. He covered the floor joists with plaster to make them less flammable. He also installed a trap door in the top floor ceiling. Roofs in that day were made of wood, so if one house were on fire, embers could spread and set fire to the next roof. With this trap door, someone could throw buckets of water on the roof to prevent the spread of fire. Pretty clever, right? Although Franklin’s charm & smarts made him popular with almost everyone - John Adams was a notable exception. Despite the fact that they worked together on the Declaration of Independence and held the same political beliefs, their personalities didn’t gel. Today we might call them ‘frenemies’. Adams mocked Franklin for being old and allegedly sleeping through the Second Continental Congress. For his part, Franklin said that Adams, “means well for his country, is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes and in some things, absolutely out of his senses.” After Franklin’s death, his grandson carried on the family tradition of trash-talking John Adams. Benjamin Franklin Bache, Franklin’s grandson, was owner of The Pennsylvania Aurora, a newspaper which liberally criticized both the Washington and Adams presidencies. The Aurora held its offices right here in Franklin Court. To get to our next stop, pass through the courtyard and exit Franklin Court on the opposite side from where you entered.
320 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
As you emerge from Franklin Court, you’ll encounter Chestnut St., immediately in front of and perpendicular to your position. Once you reach Chestnut street, stop and look across to the opposite side. To your right front you should see a red brick building with tan shutters. Just to the right of that building (on the sidewalk level) you’ll see a brick gateway topped with two stone globes. You need to cross the street and walk through that gateway. We’re not particular about which cross walk you use, just be careful about traffic. I’ll rejoin you on the other side.
323 Chestnut Street ste 876 #141, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
The building in front of you - topped with the white cupola & weather vane - is Carpenter’s Hall. Before you walk up to the hall, stop here for a moment and I’ll set the scene by talking about the most riveting, action-packed topic in the history of ever: TAXES. Okay, I may be over-hyping it. But an argument over taxes helped bring about the American Revolution. Taxes were the reason the colonies sent delegates to Philadelphia in 1774 for the FIRST Continental Congress - BEFORE the revolution began. You see, years earlier, Britain & France fought a war for control of America. Britain won, but racked up a big war debt. Afterwards, Britain levied taxes on her American colonists to help pay the debt off. Since the war had been fought (in part) to protect the colonies, the British wanted the colonials to pay their fair share. This was a major policy change for Britain, who had previously taken a ‘hands-off’ approach when it came to colonial rulemaking. The colonists didn’t like the sudden change and (more importantly) they lacked voting representation in the British Parliament. As a result, they deeply resented being taxed by a government which gave them no voice. The two sides were at an impasse. The resulting tension led to the First Continental Congress - which met at Carpenters Hall. GOOD! Now that we’re up to speed feel free to approach the front door of Carpenter’s Hall.
320 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
This building is called Carpenters’ Hall because it is owned by the Carpenters Company, one of the nation’s oldest artisan guilds. Members include architects, wood workers, structural engineers, and others. In fact Independence Hall (which we visited earlier) was built by members of the Carpenters’ Company. They’re still in operation today and actually own this building. If you’re here during daytime hours, you are welcome to go inside and view the exhibits. Otherwise, feel free to take a seat on a nearby bench or continue wandering around the exterior. So I mentioned that the situation in the colonies over British taxes was bad, right? Lemme tell you how bad... The Stamp Act of 1765, which taxed printed goods like playing cards, newspapers etc., REALLY upset the American colonists. They saw it as Parliament infringing upon their rights as British citizens. In John Adams’ diary, he referred to the Stamp Act as “that enormous engine fabricated by the British Parliament for battering down all the rights and liberties of America.” This was a commonly held opinion among the colonists. Though they were British citizens, they had been in America for generations. Their loyalties were local. Being forced to pay taxes at the behest of (essentially) a foreign government - without their permission - struck the them as tyrannical. Although the Stamp Tax was quickly repealed, the damage was done. Britain refused to acknowledge the basic issue and imposed more taxes, eventually stationing troops in America to enforce payment. Tensions were high - but they were about to get higher. On March 5, 1770, nervous British soldiers fired on a crowd of riotous colonists in Boston. When the smoke cleared, five men were killed and six were injured. The colonial press and a growing number of patriot revolutionaries dubbed it “The Boston Massacre.” In 1773, Parliament imposed a tax on tea. In response, a group of 100 patriots snuck aboard the ships docked in Boston harbor which carried the British tea, and - in protest - dumped 45 tons of the stuff into the water (roughly $1 million worth of tea in modern money). The British responded by closing the port of Boston, crippling the local economy and imposing martial law in a series of ‘Coercive Acts’. In 1774, the First Continental Congress met here at Carpenter’s Hall to develop a common response to the port’s closure - in essence creating a colonial ‘shadow government’. The delegates were anxious to discuss how to repair the rapidly declining relations with the English while still upholding colonial rights. John Adams, who gained much respect after defending the British troops in the Boston Massacre trials, was appointed as one of the delegates from Massachusetts. Here he was joined by other famous founding fathers such as Patrick Henry of Virginia, John Jay of New York and his own cousin, Samuel Adams. Much to Adams’ frustration, the First Continental Congress accomplished little. The only real resolution was to forcefully boycott English goods until the British changed their behavior. At this time, even Adams was not openly advocating American independence; almost no one wanted war with Britain. In fact, at the close of the congress, all the delegates met for dinner at the nearby City Tavern. As Adams recorded in his diary, one delegate offered up a toast: “May the sword of the parent never be stained with the blood of her children.” Another delegate replied that this was “Not a toast, but a prayer.” Alright, time to get to move to our next stop. You’ll notice that Carpenter’s Hall is surrounded by a white fence. On the backside of Carpenter’s Hall, there’s a break in the fence that places you on a brick pathway pointing directly toward 4th Street. Keep straight to crossover 4th street and follow the continuing path. Basically - just keep walking straight and I’ll join you along the way.
120 S 4th St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
Keep walking down this path and you’ll head straight to our next stop. Enroute, you’ll pass the Second Bank of the United States - surrounded by large stone pillars - on your right hand side. Eventually the path will broaden onto Library street - again, just keep walking straight.
105 S 5th St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
The red brick building to your immediate right is Library Hall. When you reach the frontside of the building on 5th Street, turn right and you’ll notice the entrance is flanked by two staircases. Above the entrance stands a statue of Benjamin Franklin. Position yourself near this 5th Street entrance. As you stand here, notice a related building across 5th Street, Philosophical Hall, on a slight diagonal from your position. Both buildings are part of the American Philosophical Society. Specifically, Library Hall houses the society’s books while Philosophical Hall is home to the society’s museum and once served as the headquarters of the society itself. During the founding era, Philadelphia was both the cultural and political center of the nation. If a scholar wanted to learn or train in the sciences, Philadelphia was home to the best scientific libraries and other learned professionals. Founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin, the American Philosophical Society (or APS for short) is America’s oldest society of learning. It boasts many famous members from the founding generation like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Hamilton. Still in operation today, it has also had many famous modern members, like Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, and Louis Pasteur. The materials in the APS collection are impressive. In addition to a large research library, they have a number of Ben Franklin’s books, one of Jefferson’s drafts of the Declaration, and the 18 small journals that explorers Lewis and Clark used to document their famous expedition - which leads into my next story. One of President Thomas Jefferson’s biggest priorities was America’s westward expansion. In 1803, he achieved a masterstroke with the Louisiana Purchase - the real estate deal with France which doubled the size of the United States by purchasing all the territory from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. All for the bargain price of $15 million! In order to understand this land better, and in hopes of finding a direct trade route to Asia, Jefferson arranged an expedition and chose his former secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to lead it. In preparation, Jefferson had Lewis come to Philadelphia in order to study botany, chemistry, surveying, mathematics, and medicine with members of the APS. In 1804, Lewis and his co-captain William Clark began their journey. They eventually reached the Pacific Ocean and returned in 1806, having traveled 8,000 miles by foot, boat, and horseback. At Jefferson’s order, they kept detailed journals, making notes and drawing sketches of hitherto unknown plants and animals which were ultimately sent back to the APS for safekeeping. The journals are still there today - an amazing part of President Jefferson’s legacy and the curious spirit of American Westward Expansion. To get to our next stop, face across the street toward Philosophical Hall. Shift your gaze left, you’ll notice two staircases topped with stone globes that lead off the street into a tree filled plaza beyond. Being mindful of traffic, cross 5th Street and take the staircase farthest from Philosophical Hall into the plaza.
111 S Independence Mall W, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
As you head up the staircase and enter the plaza, locate the statue of Commodore Barry in the center. As you approach his statue, you’ll note that he’s surrounded by benches. Feel free to take a seat at one so long as it gives you a view toward Independence Hall. You may be thinking, “Hey - didn’t I see this building already?” Don’t worry, you’re not experiencing déjà vu. This is the backside of Independence Hall and you are currently in Independence Square, the site of our next story. We’ve already talked about the incredible role this area played in America’s founding. But guess what? This place also has some serious Civil War history. It was used as a recruiting station and camp for the Union during the Civil War. Struggling to find volunteers, the army figured that staging itself in such a patriotic place would surely get people to sign up. When Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, the nation verged on war. The country was divided over the same issue that had plagued the founding generation: slavery. In fact, when Lincoln won the election, seven states seceded to form the Confederate States of America. As Lincoln took the train from his home in Illinois to Washington, DC to be sworn in as president, the nation was in danger of falling apart. But on that train ride, Lincoln stopped many places - including right here at Independence Hall. If you’re visiting while the square is open and you’re able to enter the security area, you might even see the plaque where Lincoln stood. He raised a flag specially made for the occasion which had 34 stars on it. Lincoln was making a statement: He still considered the states that had seceded as part of the United States of America. He stood in the same room where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed and swore that he “would rather be assassinated” than fail the Declaration of Independence. Well, he didn’t fail. After four years of bitter, bloody war between north and south, the Union was victorious. Slavery was abolished, other than as punishment for a crime, with a Constitutional Ammendment. America would survive - but President Lincoln would not. In April 1865, he was assassinated in Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC. Again, he would make the long train ride across the country, stopping along the way so the nation could mourn him before his burial in Illinois. For two days, his body lay in state in Independence Hall. Over 100,000 visitors came to pay their respects. So many people came that they had to build stairs underneath the windows so the crowds could enter through the windows on one side, see the fallen president, then exit via the windows opposite. Lincoln’s body lay in the room where America began, next to a statue of George Washington and the Liberty Bell, as grateful Americans paid their respects to the man who saved the Union. He had fulfilled his promise. Now as I go cry patriotically for a few moments, you can make your way to our next stop. Keeping Independence Hall on your right, exit the square and continue along on the pathway which leads toward 6th street.
150 S 6th St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
As you exit Independence Square make a right on 6th Street and continue on. When we reach the next intersection, keep straight & crossover to other side of Chestnut Street. After the Constitution was adopted, George Washington was elected president and the American capital (for a time) moved to New York City. But it wouldn’t stay there. Before an act of Congress permanently placed the federal seat in Washington, DC, the American government made it’s second-to-last-stop in Philly. The founders just loved this place, didn’t they? Maybe it was the cheesesteaks. During his presidency, Washington discovered what all presidents do: It’s a rough job. He also had the added pressure of being the nation’s first chief executive, so everything he did established a precedent. By the end, he was ready to retire - not only for personal reasons, but also out of fear that if he were to die in office, Americans would come to see the presidency as a lifetime position. What’s more, there was no tradition for the peaceful transfer of elected leadership in 1796. Kings died and were replaced by their sons - or killed by angry mobs. World leaders didn’t just gracefully give up their power to the next elected leader. Except for George Washington. Let me show you where he did it.
601 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
As you reach the intersection of 6th & Chestnut, cross the street and position yourself so that you can turn around and see the front of the multi story, red brick building on the corner. It’s the one with the small white balcony underneath the center window on the 2nd floor. This is Congress Hall, the place where (for the first time in history) American democratic power was peacefully transferred in 1796. Although this was the building where Congress met, it served as the ceremonial location for John Adam’s first inauguration, during which George Washington stood aside for John Adams to be sworn in as the second President of the United States. That Washington could have been an American king, yet freely chose to relinquish power, speaks volumes about his humility. This earned him the nickname “The American Cincinnatus,” after a Roman leader who led his people in a time of great need. But once he had seen his people through the storm, Cincinnatus swiftly gave up political control and returned to his farm - just like Washington. And while we’re on the topic of nicknames, John Adams also got some nicknames because of what happened in this building. As Washington’s vice president, it was Adams’ job to preside over the Senate, which met in this building. Since the presidency was a new office when Washington was sworn in, there was no etiquette about what to call the president—they were making up things as they went along. John Adams, wanting to ensure that the presidency was held in the utmost esteem, proposed several titles for the president: “His Elective Majesty,” “His Mightiness,” and even “His Highness, the President of the United States of America and the Protector of their Liberties.” Well, as you can imagine, he was all but laughed out of the Senate. His political enemies started calling him by ridiculous nicknames like “His Rotundity” mocking his weight, or “the Duke of Braintree” after Adams’ hometown in Massachusetts. In fact, he joked years later in a letter to a friend that when the Massachusetts legislature re-drew the boundaries of his hometown, now placing his home in the town of Quincy, that they had robbed him of his title as the Duke of Braintree. John Adams always had a good sense of humor. As you face Congress hall, turn left and continue walking. Our final stop is the outside of the Liberty Bell Center, the building immediately to your left as you follow the concrete sidewalk. After walking only a few feet, you’ll notice as a low wall and brick path intersect the sidewalk to your left. Turn onto this path and position yourself so that you can see the Liberty Bell inside the building.
101 S Independence Mall W, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
When you see the Liberty Bell through the glass, stop. The Liberty Bell has an odd distinction: it’s probably the most famous but least understood of all the places we’ve visited today. The bell was actually first made in England in 1751 - long before American independence. But here’s the funny thing: when it was first rung after the long journey across the Atlantic, the bell cracked! So Philadelphia bell makers melted the bell down and re-cast it. When they tested that bell, everyone hated the sound. So they melted the bell down and tried again. Some say these multiple recastings are what eventually caused the bell to get brittle and crack - but we’ll get to that. The bell’s inscription is a little mysterious. It comes from the book of Leviticus. The verse refers to Israel’s year of Jubilee when (every 50 years) the Israelites were supposed to free their servants and forgive debts. The bell was cast in the same year as the 50th anniversary of religious freedom in Pennsylvania. This may be why the bell is inscribed with the words, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof.” It was made to go across the street in what was then the Pennsylvania State House (today known as Independence Hall). So it was first named the State House bell and called members of the Pennsylvania Assembly - like Ben Franklin - to meeting. He could hear it ring from his house down the street. In a 1755 letter, Ben closed a letter to his friend writing, “Adieu. The bell rings, and I must go among the grave ones and talk politicks." And while the bell did not ring on July 4th, 1776 to declare American independence, we do know that all the bells in the city rang on July 8, as the Declaration was read in the square behind Independence Hall. It wasn’t until the 1830s that the State House bell became the Liberty Bell. With opposition to slavery growing, abolitionists pointed to the bell’s inscription and the words of our Founders that every human being had an inalienable right to freedom. Seeing it as a symbol of our founding ideals, abolitionists dubbed it the “Liberty Bell.” By this time, the bell was getting old. Sometime in the 1840s, a crack had begun to appear and a repair attempt was made. But on George Washington’s birthday in 1846, the bell was rung in celebration. The crack spread all the way up the bell, finally forcing its removal from Independence Hall. But its work wasn’t over. After the Civil War, the Bell went on a cross-country tour to heal the divide between North and South. Even Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, saw it in New Orleans and was moved to tears. The Bell would return to Philly and continue on. It greeted soldiers returning home from World War I right here on Chestnut Street. When the Allied forces invaded Normandy in WWII, the peal of the Liberty Bell played over the radio. Dr. Martin Luther King and President John F. Kennedy visited the bell in the 1960s as the fight for civil rights continued. Over its lifespan, the Liberty Bell has become a symbol of the nation itself - both to celebrate our history and to challenge us to live up to the ideals upon which we were founded. Now, face toward Independence Hall and allow me to orient you as we wrap up our tour. At the far opposite end of the mall from Independence Hall is the National Constitution Center. Nearby the Constitution Center, you’ll also find the Philadelphia Mint & Christ Church cemetery (where Ben Franklin is buried). If you face back toward Independence Hall and look to your left down Chestnut street, a two block walk will bring you to the Museum of the American Revolution. Both the Constitution Center & Museum of the American Revolution charge admission - but they’re well worth it. Consult your google machine to learn more. Also - to your immediate left as you face Independence Hall - you should see a large brick building parallel to the mall. This is called The Bourse and it’s got a wonderful food hall on the ground level if you’re hungry. If you’d like to go inside the Liberty Bell Center and take a closer look at the bell, simply continue walking down the brick path beside the building and you’ll see signs directing you inside. Near the entrance, you’ll also see an odd scattering of brick walls & chimneys. This is the spot where George Washington’s house stood when Philadelphia was the temporary capital. Here interpretive markers tell you about the history of the site with a particular focus on the enslaved persons who cared for the home. I hope you enjoyed our tour of the sites and sounds of Philadelphia. May it inspire you to both appreciate the country’s past and look forward to its future. Remember to visit our website at www.historicamerica.org and use #historicamericatours on social media. We look forward to taking you on another historic adventure soon!